Relationships don't break -- they erode. Resentment can build up and the bond breaks down when you feel like you're not getting what you need from your significant other. But do they really know what you need in the first place?
"We've all heard the maxim 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. This basic principle urges us to treat others the way we want to be treated, which works well enough in everyday life, but in our intimate relationships, not so much," relationship expert Susan Bratton told HuffPost Australia. Bratton is the author of over 20 books on the topics of intimacy, marriage and relationships.
"So many couples I work with are guilty of getting stuck in the hamster wheel of chores, of life, and can end up bogged down with disagreements, power struggles and miscommunications. Without giving your relationship the time it deserves, you could be headed for Splitsville."
So, why not treat your partner the way you like to be treated?
"Because the underlying assumption of this golden rule is that you and another person want to be treated the same way. And while this may be true in a general sense (for example: all of us want respect), it's rarely true in the specific sense. And it's the specifics that can make or break a relationship," Bratton said.
Huh? It would make sense then that the first step would be discerning how your partner does want to be treated, and how that differs from your own desires.
"The cornerstone of the process is the question: What do you value most in a relationship? Your aim is to identify the relationship values that are intrinsic to who you are as individuals, underneath the surface level of cultural and familial programming," Bratton said.
"It's a good idea to do the process yourself first or, if possible, do it together. The process is very intuitive and often results in a "hit" that rings true in the body and reveals an authentic desire you may never have acknowledged before."
The process itself is compiling a 'checklist' of keywords that describe what you need from your partner in a relationship.
"The first step is to have your partner identify their top four relationship values that cover everything from achievement and passion to adventure and good communication. The aim is to get down to your must-haves -- the reason you are in a relationship in the first place. Basically, if these values aren't supported, you'd rather be alone.
"Once they have their list, you ask them to clarify how you can meet their values. You might ask them to write down three specific examples of what you can do, or what you can say so you know they are getting what's most important to them from your relationship," Bratton said.
Interestingly, Bratton reveals that most of your values are actually formed when you are very young and are set in place from when you are a child.
"Your values come from your parents and role models, from television and church. You grew up in a world that etched your values into you. But you are not your parents. As an adult, you get to actively choose the values that match who you've become.
"Once you know your partner's real values, the ones that come from the core of who they are, your differences will no longer seem like 'something's wrong' because you will understand your partner's behavior and the underlying dynamics causing the frustration. What used to sound like a 'complaint' will start sounding like a request," Bratton said.
As for putting these values into practice in everyday life, it's as easy as waking up and doing it. But remember -- relationships are a two way street and your partner needs to be meeting your needs and respecting your values at the same time.
"When you both do this, you have the keys to each other's happiness in your hands. There are no more guessing games, no more manipulating to get what you want but have never been able to articulate or ask for directly. When you offer each other this kind of support, you become each other's best partner," Bratton said.
Susan Bratton has a downloadable workbook, Relationship Magic, which can help you perfect your relationship.
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